Seeking Justice AND Praying

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One of the people I've been listening to more closely over the past few months is Rich Villodas, a pastor in New York City. I don't know a whole lot about him yet, but so far I'm finding him to be insightful, unflinching in his social analysis, and prophetic in both his affirmation of and his critique of the church. In September he's releasing a book on spiritual practices titled The Deeply Formed Life, which I plan to pick up and read.

This morning Rich tweeted, “[For the Christian] one way of doing damage to the world is to just pray without ever engaging in concrete acts of justice. And one way of doing damage to our souls is to just do justice without engaging in concrete acts of prayer."

That integration of justice seeking and prayer dependency stopped me short. It’s not a new thought that prayer and justice belong together. But in our current cultural context with the direct attention on racism, Rich’s integration of seeking justice and of praying invited me to reflect more deeply on my own “concrete practices.” 

Here are a few of the questions that surfaced for me in response to Rich’s tweet:

  • In what ways do my prayers for God's blessings arise from within assumptions tied to my privileges as a well-educated, middle-class, white man, in North America? How might prayers be more attentive to the systemic oppression and suffering of others?

  • In what ways does my justice seeking embody a desire for the transformation of both the oppressed and the oppressor?

  • What might it look like to pray fervently for an end to corrupt, racist, and immoral corporate, legal, and governmental entities without demonizing those who are leading those organizations?

  • Can I only pray psalms of lament in this season when the suffering of others is so pronounced? Or is there still room to sing the wonders of Psalm 8 or Psalm 148 as a beacon of hope and confidence in God's ultimate providential care and majesty?

In a similar way, James calls us to integrate our prayer practices and our justice-making practices: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15-17).

I wonder what this might look like for you. How do you hold justice seeking and prayer together? How integrated are your prayers with your daily living? Do both your lifestyle and your prayers join the Spirit in seeking justice and shalom for others?

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Chris, thanks for this. The Christian Reformed Church's Office of Social Justice has a rich and deep library of justice prayers. Most of the prayers are written in response to specific situations, though not all. In addition, most are accompanied by brief introductions which help readers understand why it is important to pray about the particular topic. In addition, people can subscribe and receive updates every week. Here's one example from May 13, 2020:

Aid to the Navajo Nation
Doctors Without Borders dispatched a team to join organizations like World Renew on the Navajo Nation in southwestern U.S. Home to more than 170,000, including 20 Christian Reformed churches and missions within Classis Red Mesa.  The region has the highest coronavirus cases per capita than any state in the US.  Lack of running water for an estimated third of the population, inadequate food and complex medical challenges within the community require significant intervention to save lives. 

God of hope, you give your Spirit encourager and your Son rescuer to your people. We cry out on their behalf, please be near the Navajo Nation. We lament the desperate lack of basic resources of water, medical care, and food. Pour your blessing on relief organizations and multiply their efforts for your glory.  O Bright and Morning Star, bring us comfort from afar, dispel the shadows of the night and turn darkness into light.

Sometimes the act of justice is the prayer, or someone's way of praying.